Maybe those old-school weightlifting guys who toil in the dank, dusty corner of their basement or garage have it right. They may only have a battered set of weights, a creaky flat bench that looks like it was welded in a high-school shop class, and a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his bodybuilding heyday, torn from a long-forgotten magazine, at their disposal.
But even with such rudimentary implements, the most amazing of physiques can be forged. Take the pectorals, for instance. You can avail yourself of row upon row of gleaming chest-training machinery at your local health club, but none of those devices could do the job better than a simple set of dumbbells and an adjustable bench. That’s because the chest is stressed through two distinct and basic motions: a press, during which you extend a weight from your chest by straightening your elbows; and a flye, during which you lock your elbows into a slightly bent position and bring your arms from out to your sides to a point directly in front of your pecs. Analyze any effective chest exercise and you’ll find a variation of one of those two movements at its core.
It’s with those principles of chest improvement in mind that we devised this brutally basic regimen: It consists of two presses, two flyes, and what you could call a variation of the flye in dumbbell pullovers. Old-school bodybuilding practitioners have used all five of these exercises religiously for decades, and with good reason: They’re uncomplicated, they don’t require a lick of fancy equipment, and most important, they work. Just ask the aforementioned guy in that tattered poster taped to the wall, the one who has seven Mr. Olympia titles to his credit, who built the most famous pectorals in history with free weights, rusty benches and old-school dedication to his craft. Now, isn’t it time to clean out the cellar or pull the car into the driveway and use that valuable space for more important pursuits?
Incline Dumbbell Press
Adjust a bench so that the incline in the bench is 30 to 45 degrees and lie faceup, your feet flat on the floor, holding a dumbbell in each hand just outside your shoulders. Powerfully press the dumbbells toward the ceiling, stopping when they are an inch or so away from each other above your chest, then slowly return along the same path.
Incline Dumbbell Flye
Adjust a bench so that the incline in the bench is 30 to 45 degrees and lie faceup, your feet flat on the floor, holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip. Extend your arms so the dumbbells are directly over your chest, and bend your elbows slightly. Slowly lower the dumbbells in a wide arc down to your sides, keeping your elbows locked in a slightly bent position throughout the range of motion. Stop when your elbows reach shoulder level and reverse the motion.
Flat-Bench Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press
Lie faceup on the bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand just outside your shoulders, palms facing each other. Powerfully press the dumbbells upward toward the ceiling, stopping when they’re an inch or so away from each other over your chest, then slowly return the dumbbells to the start and repeat.
Flat-Bench Dumbbell Flye
Lie faceup on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and extend your arms above your chest. Slowly lower the dumbbells in a wide arc out to your sides, keeping your elbows locked in a slightly bent position throughout the range of motion to protect them from overextension. Stop when your elbows reach shoulder level and reverse the motion.
Lie perpendicular across a flat bench with your upper back, head and neck supported by the bench, your feet apart and flat on the floor. Firmly cradle the inside upper plate of a dumbbell with both hands, your arms extended above your face. Keeping your arms straight, slowly lower the dumbbell back over your head, feeling a good stretch in your chest. Pause, then forcefully reverse direction, squeezing your chest at the top.